PETER SCHJELDAHL, POETIC ART CRITIC

 

“Art has many mansions,” according to revered art critic Peter Schjeldahl. I turn to his articles first. I’m old school, still love magazines and will indulge in a copy of the New Yorker when I can afford one.

“Today the most compelling tend to the tumbledown.” I ponder “tumbledown,” how it applies. Are we to the point of aching for the past so badly we favour anything vintage or gaudy? I suspect nostalgia.

Interrupted by a ding. I forgot to turn off Notifications-a comment from a frenemy taking umbrage with a Robert Kroetsch quote I posted: “In a sense we haven’t got an identity until somebody tells our story. The fiction makes us real.”
DF: “So, Harry Potter is real? Lots of books about him. How about Spiderman?”
“Yo DF, ask a 10-year-old. Both are excruciatingly real to that crowd.”
DF: “Huh?”
“No doubt Kroetch meant “real” figuratively.”
DF responds with, “Bullshit.”

Apparently it’s vital to explain my folly, prove his point. Troll. I don’t respond with “troll. “I may curse like a laid-off oil rig worker but refrain from discord however thought provoking, preferring to employ the Block option. I can live without winning, will happily collect triumph elsewhere. I return to Schjeldahl’s The Medici at the Met to marvel.

According to Wikipedia the guy is a poet as well. The highest form of literature. Explains his facility with language. I highlight resonant phrases: “…virtuosic artifice.” Yes, feigning demands feigning well, going for the gusto. “…ornamenting a milieu of preening style
and often freewheeling Eros.” “Helldogs.” “Vulgate.” “…accidently burlesque ways.” I would like to employ “burlesque” thusly but these days people associate the term with strippers instead of its true meaning, parody.

Sexism. DF’s problem I suspect. I dared to eschew  “…the golden circle of his regard.” Expectations; everybody’s got ‘em and I’ll never meet his.

Sadly, Peter Schjeldahl died October 21, 2022 and I am only now posting this tribute. I’m grateful for how he enriched my linguistic repertoire, awed and inspired with his wit, insights, nuanced semantics of expression, and made me laugh.

Rest in peace Poet.

Poet & Impresario IAN FERRIER taken too soon…

This is the effect Ian has. I adored and respected and admired this kind and gentle man so much; dear friend, poet, collaborator and indefatigable language art instigator. Singer. Influencer. I will miss that singular voice. Effect.

Sadly Ian left this mortal coil Friday November 3rd. Much love and condolences to all his friends and family.

 

Photo of Ian as a young man beautifully captures his beautiful soul. Rest in peace Poet.

WE SOAR

Photo: Peter Haskell

“We will soar, for we are armed
knowing where the lies land us.”

My son and I recently visited New York and the 9/11 memorial, which was equally eerie and moving.  Though effectively a tourist attraction, it was beautiful, evocative and respectful of the souls lost. I wrote the poem below a couple of years after that terrible event.

I still love flying. How human is that, to continue to take risk in the face of tragedy and despite fear? Courage or folly? Both?

SOAR

Before you-know-what, you-know-when,
I flew in an airplane. I won’t say what.
Or when. People are sick from it.
NASDAQ crashed. Family plan with it.

I remained on the upswing. Going somewhere.
Chicago specifically, e-poets’ geo-conference.
I am digerati. A doyenne of new media culture.
Still, airport security confiscates my apple.

My orange. Half my dinner. They take nothing
from the hinky, hacky-sacking Travis Bickle
doppelgänger who must pose more of a threat,
though that’s like comparing potheads to divas.

Pick up my e-ticket. Wait with the other sulky,
wannabe passengers, SeaTac muggy as a laundromat,
air fouled with KFC. Machines vend to the grounded.
Concrete pillars tremble in the wake of each landing.

Since this is before you-know-what, I don’t assume
a 747 will take out the Space Needle or land
right through us. I don’t equate ‘jet’ with ‘bomb.’
I need only worry about the quake. The Big One

Vancouver and Seattle—sitting queenly
upon the Juan de Fuca fault line—are overdue for.
I am anticipating flight, savouring my thrills,
bumpy joyrides, like motherhood.

Junior calls. Yes dear, Mommy will be home soon.
Before the split, his father cautioned us:
Mercury in our mouths. Vaccines.
Population control. Microwaves.
A conspiracy of urologists.
Fluoride. Fallout. Wheat.

He has found a healer. Can he be cured?
We all know I’m doomed to be infected.
I’m the one who will eat tainted salmon
at the barbeque, the one with stretch marks

and eyes closed in the photographs. The one
who defected, the one who didn’t want
what he wanted, sixteen hours on a film set,
baby languishing with a sitter.

He gets on the phone. Another forecast.
I dreamed you died in a plane crash. I saw you
flailing about in the ocean with your books.
Oh stop polluting my trip with your Eeyore pooh.

I am part of a feminist plot against fathers,
and it was a controlled explosion
set off by the U.S. government.
Suddenly he is solvent, taking me to court,
re-staking his claim to our precious cargo,
crusading to save his son from the new world order.

I board. Window seat. Always, despite dire warnings.
Junior likes to compare the people to ants.
Houses are Lego, mountains, papier mâché.
We land. Kurt appears in the flesh, our virtual rapport
downloaded to O’Hara minus the time-outs and errors.

I feel at home in Chicago, loose in its Loop, towers,
Art Institute. Go to live in Chagall’s epic blue
glass dream for a day, emerge bestowed with wings,
like all his lovers and madonnas.

I have not flown since you-know-what,
you-know-when. We are saddled with dread
after witnessing steel crumple like tin.
It is safe to grieve. Cockpits secured.
Air marshals on board. We will fly again,
prepared to take down any motherfucker
who thinks he’s going to hijack anyone.

We will soar, for we are armed
knowing where the lies land us.

ARSONISTS AT HEART

As my heart breaks, I send love and best wishes to friends and family in affected areas and a work in progress from my forthcoming collection. Not much solace sorry, just truth telling.

ARSONISTS AT HEART

Supercharged ambiguity, uncertainty
in overdrive, the opacity of an interminable
summer of corrosive fumes obscures
culpability as we mince toward oblivion.

Hurly Burly Commerce Fair
and haggling traditions continue,
the haze’s origin indistinct from cause,
human error upon human error,

extinguishing efforts wasted
on an alleged civilization
barrelling toward its expiration date,
beyond band aids of sea walls,

green treaties and carbon taxes,
our boreal forest so vast
we burn instead of cut.
Arsonists at heart,

we rely upon smoke screens
to keep the status quo
propped up against
the altar of human industry.

Language in my Blood, language in my Bones

Apparently, I’m a throwback. Shared this with my long-lost sisters. Now I can tell those who ask where I acquired my bent for writing; my DNA! Brushing up on Scottish history, I found reference to Robert Fergusson, the poet.

I only discovered five years ago that I’m a Ferguson and descended from a long line of Robert Fergusons, also the name of my biological father. This Robert Fergusson was an “18th century poet who despite his short life is widely considered to have provided inspiration to the Scottish Enlightenment and for having influenced the likes of Robert Burns and Allan Ramsay.” I will look for him when I get to Edinburgh. And he was quite the bohemian. “Fergusson involved himself in Edinburgh’s social and artistic circles mixing with musicians, actors, artists and booksellers who were also publishers.” Sounds familiar.

ACT NATURALLY

Ferocious as I am elegant
I did not ask for this
protracted neck, pale plumage,

penchant for the pond.
I may appear to be gliding
but my palmate feet paddle.

Neither did I ask to be a versifier,
foolishly speaking
in the voice of a swan.

 

We did not ask for this fate.
Who in their right mind would,
the gift of life bestowed without consent.

Born with words in my mouth,
put there by some outer force,
whether I believe in divinity or not.

And what does it matter, my faith?
I can identify with a waterfowl
or the Virgin Mary for all anyone cares.

Blame it on nature.
Biology. Tribe vibe perhaps:
Yeats, Baudelaire and Burns.

The words burst forth,
language in my blood,
language in my bones.

 

 

 

 

 

Crime Was Never Truer…

I had the privilege of visiting my best friend in New York City recently. A year younger, Cathy was my sisters’ classmate and came over to our house one day after school. We smoked pot, blasted tunes and danced. We clicked, and have engaged in a strong bond ever since. We were 15 and 16.

That summer we decided to hit the road and spent two months hitchhiking all over BC. Got as far north as Prince Rupert, where the sun remained high in the sky until 10:30 at night. We were extremely resourceful.

Is there any better way to survive in this world than to be oblivious? I swear that’s how I got through myriad misadventures and a long, misspent youth. Child murderer? What drought? Night Stalker who? Crack epidemic, where?

Screwed up I know but I was in my own world. And lived to tell the tale of my trials and tribulations, things like sexual assault, addiction and a toxic marriage though my poetry and novel, The Town Slut’s Daughter.

FOUR THUMBS OUT

 Crime was never truer.

Vaguely aware

though thoroughly unconcerned,

fresh meat risk takers

roamed BC highways

for two prolonged teenage months.

 

With haplessness and gall

we made it all the way to Prince Rupert,

partying enhanced by lingering dusks

and belated sun downs.

 

What saved us

from casual misogyny

and monstrous vanities?

We had no protection.

No knives or mace.

 

We were tall, clever, formidable.

I was angry, seeking revenge,

a raging Amazon bent on freedom,

bent on compensation for years

served in a prison of a childhood.

 

What saved us

before crime was trendy?

What saved us

from the jealous girlfriend

brandishing a switchblade?

What saved us from the stalker’s

pursuit of the youthfully new?

 

By that summer I excelled

at sensing danger,

deciphering contorted twists of intent,

trained eyes appraising drivers

while combing the periphery.

 

Because Murder Is Wrong…

Been a while, thought I should come up with a blog entry, such as it is; my blog I mean.

Recently had my meagre pension clawed back, which came as quite a shock. Apparently I’m not impoverished enough. As little as I earned last year I still owed CRA money. I will consult with an accountant next time.

There is a push for UBI in Canada and as I told a friend, it’s in the proposal stage, will likely not make it to ‘the ballot.’ UBI is unfortunately and still too radical a concept. And I sill can’t abide the puritanism and punitive approach to social ills, suspect that ultimately it would save money, along with lives. Is it even possible to tally the cost of impoverishment, drug addiction and mental illness? While trillions of tax dollars and private funds are spent on the military and flying to fucking Mars. Our priorities are skewed.

On the artist front, I’m in a quandary regarding my manuscript. I despise it. And or, dread it. I should be working on my fourth collection of poetry, working title, “Ask Alexa” and was on a roll at the beginning of the pandemic, penning about 90 poems but my output, slowed to a trickle then nothing for the past six months. *sigh* Just life. Sidetracked by life: some bad, mostly good. Along with work, obligations, etc. I keep a journal and it’s all subject matter but I never feel like myself until I ‘get it back;’ my writing practice. Composing is the greatest challenge.

In the meantime, I am creating some unique songs with Pluviophiles partner Keir Nicoll. Despite myriad setbacks we persist and now have a solid set of material. Think I’m even  feeling confident enough to perform at a party next month and go on a little road trip to the Cariboo, play Williams Lake. Woo hoo! Love road trips. This is dedicated to we working class heroes.

THE CINDERELLA YEARS

Work.
Find a way
to find work.
Find a way

to get through work.
Find a way out
of dispiriting work
yet find a way to pay the bills.

Find a way out
of the trap
while finding a way
to eliminate dirt, please the client.

Good trick.
Become the client’s own personal wiccan
working magic, erasing her troubles.
Voila!

No more mess, no more misery.
You’re welcome.
Hope it occurs to the client
that a tip would be lovely.

My tunes, tools as vital as mop
and broom, tunes blasting,
belted out between scrubs.
I will survive!

Plots and schemes
abet a roiling mind,
wrest me from my genes,
lift me from my knees,

out of the hearth, beyond grime,
scrapes, lingering anger,
last night’s wrangle.
Screw Prince Charming,

I want to be alone. Find a way.
Find a home, use these sapped hands
to tidy my own house. Be me,
a professional human. Full time.

 

 

“I Am Large, I Contain Multitudes.” And Modes.

There was a period in my life when I felt like an utter failure. Like so many others I’d migrated to Los Angeles with every intention of being a star. A rock star. That’s how naïve I was. I tried, got tantalizingly close to the fabled brass ring but not close enough. I fell into a downward spiral of drug abuse and toxic marriage. I regretted not possessing the required killer instinct, the inability to hustle. To succeed.

I did emerge, miraculously intact and entered into a new mode; fully engaged as a cultural worker, coordinating events and plugged into a vibrant arts community. I came home. I had a baby. I published my first book. I may not have had much of an interior life but was heartened to learn that my creative life wasn’t over, that I’m capable of reinvention, of putting things-including my struggles and disappointments-into perspective.

These days I’m just as ambitious but armed with the knowledge I possess the ability to adapt, even transcend. And grateful to have lived to tell the tale in one of my books, The Town Slut’s Daughter.

 

The Life Force…

Lily Seika Jones

Someone made a meme with this artwork by Lily Seika Jones, had to share.

As a woman, brought up to always be ‘nice,’ I bear in mind that every creature on this planet, no matter how tiny is equally fierce; entitled to, and WILL fight to the death when necessary. The life force?

Which brings to mind this song, one of my Zellots songs from the past that Keir and I as The Pluviophiles have resurrected.

CORAL AGGRESSION

Some life is invisible
Some life is hard to see
Some life is so tiny
She cries, “Don’t tread on me”

Life by life
Year by year
Kill by kill
Sea by sea
The light is coming

The lighthouse keeper is just a little girl
She sees every life to the bottom of the sea
The keeper of the light is just a little girl
She saves every life, far as the eye can see

Some life is invisible
Some life is hard to see
Some life sows forever
At the bottom of the sea

Happy Year of the Rabbit!

“FIRST COMES MARY”-SLAYING THE PATRIARCHY & SO LONG 2022!

“If I’d been the Virgin Mary I would have said No.”-Stevie Smith.

A pretty good year, aside from a certain amount of stress and chaos. I got to go on a long overdue book launch celebration tour of “Skookum Raven,” visiting long lost friends along the way; Victoria, Salt Spring Island, Winnipeg, Bowen Island and the Cariboo. Each event was like a reunion. Even sold some books!

Partner-in-musical crime Keir Nicoll and I made our Pluviophiles debut in May at Massey Arts and recorded a bare bones demo with pal Jesse Waldman in June. Our tunes are available on Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music and the others. We’re working hard to nail down a set and will seek gigs and festival appearances in 2023. I love our material! And it feels so good to be singing and writing songs again. It saves my sanity, nourishes my soul.

Gawd I despise Old Man Winter. We’re all enduring a long, bitterly cold December with record shattering temperatures and a lingering arctic front/air mass which has evolved into “king tides” and flooding in Vancouver. I feel reluctant to emerge from hibernation but we are reminded of those pesky obligations and resolutions with each approaching new year.

I was exhausted after two days of shopping, cooking and cleaning but enjoyed a wonderful Christmas Eve. Zoomed a visit with our Ferguson kin in Ontario. I wasn’t thrilled with my efforts; cheesecake cracked; stew took too long in the slow cooker. Ha! I forgot to add the green peas, dammit. Didn’t particularly like the new salad recipe and I had knocked over the juice for the dressing. Ugh. Menu too ambitious. Next time I will stick with the tried and true. I wanted a traditional turkey dinner but the snow storm and ensuing daunting logistics kiboshed that plan. Kids didn’t notice, far as I could tell. Lucas and Ayana ate everything up and drank their wine.

Hauled out some old photos for a trip down Memory Lane. It’s weird watching my autistic son being affectionate with a woman. I’m not used to PDAs. I liked her. She’s beautiful. Charming. Asked if I danced? “Lucas doesn’t know how to dance.” They were cute together. Good natured banter and teasing. Happy together. I hope it will last.

Christmas day I read,  binged on leftovers-cheesecake impossible to ignore-and movies; American Splendor, Glass Onion/Knives Out, Lost In Translation and Home Alone. Apropos I suppose. Got weepy. Christmas conjures up melancholia/my inner Mick.

I’m enclosing my Christmas poem; well, it’s more an ode to the Virgin of Guadalupe, written while visiting the Yucatan one year.

FIRST CAME MARY

Enchanted morning swim, matrix of turquoise
lagoon. Silver palometas, yellow damselfish
caress my legs. Casa Ocio walls whitewashed
in cactus milk. Coconuts on the lawn.
Palm fronds bowing, rippling like sea anemones.
Heavy mahogany Hemingway digs.
Gecko chirps from behind a gilt frame.
Cool terrazzo marble pulls sand from toes.
Double rain showerhead. Full throttle bottle bar
under a palapa. I ponder the power
of local masonry to withstand hurricanes,
why it seems odd to name them after men.

Beneath an arbor of pink bougainvillea
sit my dubious nephew, delicate girlfriend,
doubts sinking slowly into the deep
purple cushions. We are going to town. To Playa.
Soft brown doves adorn neon.
Turtles bask on green tile mosaic. Red house
hosts a party tableau of orange Fanta, blue corn
flowers, flags of paper lace, chocolate pan de huevos.
We smell agave, chili, vanilla, coriander and anise,
hear mariachis blaze a mighty La Bamba. Gobble
pumpkin tamales, snow-white beach cooling our heels.
Mongrels expire at the feet of professional urchins
soliciting pesos. I will not cry, select a white handkerchief
festooned with poinsettias embroidered by his mother.
No, I can’t buy them all. Though downcast he will not cry.
Our Lady of Guadalupe provides. Protects.

Christmastime but it’s Mary I see. Everywhere. To the faithful
the forever virgin manifests in reefs, rays and schools
of gobies and fairy basslet. In the crystalline water
of a cenote near Merida. In the mynah’s cry.
They live in Mother Mary’s shadow, warm as her embrace.
Queen of the Americas imperial as the iguana
gnawing hibiscus, sunning atop Tulum’s serpentine stairways.
She is wing carved into rock, three pelicans soaring above.

Even Mary, standing on the moon, presiding over the jungle
in a cloak of stars, could not stop the calendar,
marauding anthropologists or games to the death.
On every altar she towers over the crucifix, candles,
iron crosses, golden grapes. She is under their skin,
her miraculous portrait inked onto their muscles.
Hammered in copper, in tin. On murals.
Santa Maria assures and comforts all
her Mexican children. Heals. Entirely and ever
Virgin Mary is the horizon, sea and sky colliding
in azure, cobalt blues. Sacred to all. Taxi drivers.
Marimba players. Deejays and charros. She waves
from the cruise ships, watches over fire dancing,
blesses the portrait of two young lovers lost
in a car crash. Her people feel the harbour of her arms
around them. Her mercy. Infinite. Close.
First comes Mary. Holy Mary. Mother of God.